Knights of the Hill Country

For my “book from your hometown” 2016 book challenge, I had to fudge a bit and go with my home state. Last year, I read Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now for a book of the same category, so I thought I would stick with him again this year. I liked The Spectacular Now a little bit. The main character just isn’t the best guy, even though, he is trying, but even though he is given the opportunity to change and grow and evolve, he doesn’t. I rarely see a main character in a young adult novel who doesn’t learn anything at all. But, I was willing to give Tharp another try.

I disliked this book even more, though. The main character is a good kid who is the star of the football team, but longs for something more. He realizes football and popularity isn’t all that meaningful. He meets an unpopular girl who sees him for who he really is. This is just about the same plot as The Spectacular Now. The only difference is the main character in this book has awful grammar. So awful that I could barely read this book because it was so distracting. And books with bad grammar are my pet peeve. I understand giving characters voice and authenticity. However, a “dumb jock” from small town Oklahoma¬† with bad grammar is just a stereotype that does not need to be perpetuated. When kids read books like this, do they really need bad grammar reinforced? Do we really have to keep making kids dumb (as the main character saw himself) to make them relatable?

Even though this book was short, I could only read it in short spurts because the grammar was so hard to get through. I eventually skimmed a good chunk of it just to get the plot points. Maybe I’m being too hard on the author, or expecting too much, but I just don’t think we need to expose kids to improper grammar more than they already get from society.

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We

When I had to read a dystopian book for my 2016 book challenge, I knew I would have a problem. I’ve read them all. Well, obviously not them all, but when I scroll down the Goodreads list of popular dystopian books, I have read 19 of the top 20. So finding one that wasn’t a series (I enjoy a good series, but I just don’t have time to invest in one right now) was going to be a challenge. Then I remembered We. I’ve had it on my list for awhile. Published in 1924, We is one of the earliest dystopian novels of the modern literature.

I was first introduced to the genre with The Giver, then by 1984, both works affecting me greatly. 1984 is still my favorite all time favorite book, mostly because Orwell was a brilliant writer and could truly see our future. It is the scariest book I’ve ever read, mostly because it is coming true every day. And reading We was very reminiscent of 1984. It is clear Orwell got his inspiration from this book. However, Huxley says he wrote Brave New World before reading We. But all three books are clearly aligned, not only in subject, but also in writing style.

We is very sparsely written. It’s more of a stripped down version of a story. Granted, it was originally published in Russian, but the English version is really streamlined. There isn’t a big focus on why, or how. But just of what is happening right now, told through journal entries. Where 1984 adds in the emotion of the time period with the “Two Minutes Hate” and the relationship between Winston and Julia. However, Brave New World ramps it up even more with all the sex and Soma.

Even though I didn’t love this book like I do others in the genre, it was a really interesting book to see where the genre (mostly) originated.

Shopgirl

I’ve been a fan of Steve Martin’s since I saw Roxanne as a kid. He is simply a comedic genius. However, I have a feeling he got his writing gig simply by his name. As a reader, I notice a lot of about writing styles. By no means am I a writer, but I am able to critically analyze writing. Some styles are so unique and seamless that I notice them for positive reasons (I’m thinking Cormac McCarthy, here) and some authors have a tried and true style (like Steinbeck or Hemingway). But Martin employs some odd style choices.

First of all, he wrote this book in present tense. It was jarring enough that I noticed it and couldn’t stop myself from wanting to put it back in its proper past tense. Maybe I’ve just read way too many books written in past tense and the occasional present tense is my own personal issue. But it was also written in 3rd person. I guess this isn’t surprising because it really did feel like watching a movie, like I was reading one big voiceover for someone’s life. Martin also told me a lot, rather than showing me. Lesson one in writing is “show, don’t tell.” He doesn’t follow this rule, though. He explained a lot of character emotions by just putting the info on my plate, rather than leading me down a path of understanding. Finally, he uses a strange fast forwarding technique (months later….) several times and it was really jarring. I didn’t really understand the timeline of the story. These two characters are together for awhile, but with all the strange fast forwarding, I have no idea how long. A year? Two years? It’s a mystery to me.

I gave the book 3 stars because I did want to keep reading and see what happened to the characters, but I really wasn’t invested in them. I didn’t bond with them because they were pretty emptily written. I will forever be a fan of Martin’s movies, and have heard nothing but amazing things about his Broadway show, but his writing career isn’t his best work.

The Liars’ Club

I’ve been wanting to read Mary Karr for awhile, now. She has been recommended to many a good number of times, for various reasons. Thankfully, none of those reasons are that Karr and I share a similar childhood. I grew up in the south, too, but that’s where the similarities end.

Where I had a good home, stable childhood, and two working parents, Karr and her sister Leica (Lisa), lived predominately with their alcoholic mother, while their father came and went (mostly because the girls chose to live with their mother to protect her from herself). These days, CPS would have been more involved, but back then, kids just figured out how to deal with dysfunctional parents. Their mother suffered from depression, fueled by alcohol. And their father, though hard working, just couldn’t deal with his wife and they divorced after some time. A few boyfriends and a step father later, Mary and her sister grow up, return home to their dad, to see what life is like on the other side.

And where this story isn’t necessarily unique in the memoir world (seems like every memoir starts with a terrible childhood, because happy childhoods aren’t worth writing about?) the writing was grand. A good memoir has the reader hearing the author’s voice in his/her head. I could easily hear Karr, even though her voice is nothing like what I imagined it to be (thanks, YouTube). The turns of phrase she uses are authentic and meaningful, rather than forced.

I look forward to reading her next two memoirs, Cherry and Lit, to see how she survived trying times with southern grace and dignity.

The Shadow of the Wind

I really wish I spoke multiple languages so I could read books as they were written. Alas, I only speak English. I can only imagine how amazing it would be to read Dostoevsky in Russian. Given where I live, learning Spanish would be pretty easy to do, but I am just too lazy. And I don’t think I could have the patience to stick with learning to become fluent enough to read an entire novel. But, I like the idea of it. A friend of mine who taught Spanish, but was a native English speaker, told me once that there really is something lost in the translation. The Shadow of the Wind would be in my top 5 books to read in the native language, along with the aforementioned Dostoevsky (not Tolstoy. Blech) and Love in the Time of Cholera.

A couple people recommended this to me, so I grabbed it at the library. I started reading without looking at the blurb, even. Sometimes I like to be surprised. And I was. The story takes place in the 1940s/50s in Spain. Daniel is a young boy when he discovers a book called The Shadow of the Wind (side note, how many book titles are titles of fictitious books?) by Julian Carax. He has never heard of the book or the author, but loves the book, so he starts to dig.

This book is part love story, part detective novel, all set in a beautiful city and a beautiful language. And even though I might not have grasped the full beauty of the book because I read a translation, it doesn’t matter. The story is captivating, the characters are endearing, and the words are simply wonderful.

The Terrorist’s Son

This book is hard for me to write about, given today’s society. If you have any empathy for Muslims, you are viewed as anti-Christian. If you support the current administration, you are a Muslim sympathizer, which means you are anti-Christian. I have been called a moron, an idiot, a sheep, a follower of the second Hitler (Obama). I have been told people are embarrassed for me for being liberal. I have been told to think for myself and not to blindly follow the liberal media. I’ve taken this criticism via social media for, oh, 8 years now, since Obama took office. Side note: I do support our president. I do not think he is a Muslim. I do not think he wants to take away Christian rights. And, amazingly enough, I do think for myself. I actually listen to the other side all the time. I am not an emotional person. I look at fact and logic. My entire belief is about giving people the benefit of the doubt. And yes, this includes Muslims, African-Americans, Hispanics, Christians, Jews, and anyone else who may cross my path. I’m not quick to judge.

When a friend recommended this book, I knew I had to read it for my 2016 book challenge for a “book of an unfamiliar culture.” I admit that I don’t know as much as I would like to about the Islamic belief, and I certainly don’t understand radical thinking of any kind. And 93 pages later, I have hope. A tiny sliver of hope. TED talks brings us the story of a boy growing up with a radical Muslim father. The father, born in Egypt, hates America. He hasn’t always, but some recent events have led him down this path. The boy, Z, was born in the US. His mother, born in PA, converted when she was 18, met the father, and was married 10 days later. Life was good for a number of years. Then the father had some trouble, met some people, and events were put into motion. The father, El-Sayyid Nosair, was convicted of murdering a rabbi, and helped orchestrate, from behind bars, the 1993 bombing of the WTC. Wikipedia Z was just a small boy when all this happened. His world was taken away by his father’s actions. He was bullied growing up, mercilessly, for who he was, who his father was. It wasn’t until his mother changed their surname, moved to Florida, and gave her family a new start that Z started to find himself.

A normal coming of age story deals with homework, dating, getting a job, buying a car. Z’s story deals with coming to terms that his father chose terrorism over his family. Z no longer speaks to his father. He has chosen to lead a life of peace, speaking out against violence.

In today’s world, where violence is so shocking, yet so pervasive, we should all take a page from this book. Z took the more difficult path. The path of escape from his radical father. It would have been easy to throw himself into his father’s footsteps, join the war, support the radical beliefs. But he didn’t. And that is what true strength is.

Harry Potter

I have read the series several times. Most everyone I know has either read it, or has zero desire to read it. Very few have it on their “to read” list. I’m not here to convince you to read it. Either you have, or you won’t. And I don’t fault you if you don’t want to. The genre isn’t for everyone. And I am pretty sure I wouldn’t be the first person to try to get you to read the series. If you haven’t read it by now, you probably know someone who has.

I’m not going to update after every book. That just seems a bit tedious. But I will update when I feel like I have something worth discussing, and of course, once I finish my reread. The last time I read the entire series from start to finish was in 2009. I read the last two books in a week while on vacation. I finished the last one on the plane, sitting between two strangers, bawling my eyes out at Neville and his bravery. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I am not a crier, and definitely not at books. I just don’t get into them enough to shed tears. Grey’s Anatomy, sure. Every single episode. And as much as I love books, I just don’t get emotional about them. Harry Potter is the exception. So the big question this time around…. will I cry, even though I’ve read the series multiple times?

I have visited Pottermore just enough to be sorted into a house. I was not surprised in the least to be a Ravenclaw with Slytherin as a close second. And I’m okay with both those. I’m not brave. I don’t need to be a Gryffindor. I’m smart and I’m pretty crafty. So I will take my sorting proudly.